Dear Miss Mackie,
It has been a long time since I have last reported to you in class as to the peregrinations
of my second grade summer; an oral classroom report, if I recall correctly. No doubt you have passed on to that greater teachers lounge, but I suspect that this written update will find you able if unwilling to pass your judgement upon it, some fifty-seven years after my last report. So without further adieu, I shall begin what in your day would be called, in journalese, below the fold.
I spent my summer in the Atlantic Maritimes, specifically Nova Scotia, a land of historic ships and even more historic single malt scotches. I had been endeavoring to complete a gap in my adult education by sampling representative examples of the six regions of Scotland with a distinctive style in each. I had tried earlier in the spring a Glenmorangie, from the highlands region, and had been, well, not exactly overwhelmed. Pleasant, but not one I would buy again.
Then, in the first days of our Maritimes excursion, after viewing the Bluenose II being rebuilt by committee, and after doing a whale watching tour out of Lunenburg harbour, I found a luncheon bar and grill with a bottle of Lagavulin. For those unfamiliar with this spirit, this is from the island of Islay (pronounced Iss-lah), a region known for heavily peated, smoky malts. In fact I had been forewarned by many reviews that I would likely either hate it or love it. Of the many notes described, prominent were iodine, brine, phenols, smoke, peat you can chew. You get the idea.
On the other hand, aficionados describe Lagavulin as “the meaning of life in a bottle”, unique, transcendental, religious in intensity. Honestly, I thought there was a slim to none chance that I would enjoy it, but there it was, and at $8.00 a shot versus spring for a bottle back home for $60 to $80, I jumped at the chance. Also, my wife wasn’t with me.
And it was transcendent, and it was good. It is safe to say I have never tasted any distilled spirit even remotely close to this. And it is truly beyond words.
Now, flash forward two days to another sea excursion, on a three masted gaff-rigged schooner, sailing out of Halifax harbor, the second largest natural harbor after Sydney, Australia. The trip out of the harbor was accompanied by a foggy drizzle, but enough of a breeze to fill the sails. As we tacked a wide arc beyond the harbor the fog lifted, the sun beamed down, and as she is wont to do, my seven year old granddaughter asked the Captain if she could take a turn at the helm. He replied “Why not?!”, and she took the wheel. This actually was the third time she’d enjoyed this experience, but the first time on this particular vessel, a 140 foot schooner. As I watched her show her usually self-confidence, she steered the tall ship under the huge Angus McDonald bridge that spanned between Halifax and her sister city Dartmouth on the other side of the harbor.
And my pride gave way to something else. Inexplicable jealousy. Something must have shown in my face, because she asked me if I wanted a turn. I declined, because I actually didn’t want a turn. I was busting with pride for her, but where was this jealousy coming from. Later in the day, the source unfolded as gently as a flapping jib. When I was her age, I was not given opportunities such as this, because, I was told, I was too young, or I would do it wrong, or simply “you can’t do that.” And just like that, the spell was lifted. Years of hearing those old tapes in my head instilling a nearly lifelong lack of confidence, gone with a sea breeze and a dram of Lagavulin. The meaning of life in a bottle indeed. Sailing and single malts from here on for this former landlubber.